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You’ve reached the seventh and final installment of a scene-for-scene look at Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. You may want to browse Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI. Or you can steamroll ahead and hope it all makes sense.

And so we arrive at the final chapter in our exhaustive analysis of Bad Lieutenant. This post explores the film’s slippery final minutes, in which people learn lessons, loose ends get tied, and yet, somehow, nothing is revealed.

Bad Lieutenant‘s ride-off into the sunset begins after a climactic — and gloriously berserk — shootout at Xzibit‘s mansion. Over the last of Sonny Terry’s harmonica howling, the film cuts to a junior cop (Shawn Hatosy) at the familiar police station setting. Nicolas Cage enters the frame to inquire about Hatosy’s evening plans in a near incomprehensible drawl. Notice the return of two of Cage’s favorite affectations: his slurred accent and his sharply slanted posture.

Cage wants Hatosy to revisit the home where a Senegalese family was murdered at the start of the film. He has a strange hunch that Hatosy might find a crack pipe belonging to Xzibit. A find like that would place Xzibit at the crime scene and effectively solve the murder case. Hatosy, as if he’s heard such things before, asks, “You had a vision, right?”

Since when does Cage have visions? Since when does he use them as an excuse to follow hunches on the detective trail? Since when was Bad Lieutenant one those shows about cops with supernatural abilities (i.e. “Profiler,” “Psych,” “The Mentalist,” “Millenium”)? Since never, basically. At no point in Bad Lieutenant do we get the slightest impression that Cage has visions or strong intuition, which he uses to cajole his peers into doing things his way. The line sprouts from nowhere. It serves as a comically lazy explanation for why Hatosy would believe Cage’s random hunch. Never mind that it inspires distracting questions like the ones above and has no logical connection to the previous 100 minutes. Of course, Cage has hallucinations, but those drugged-out interludes never relate to his police work. Those are just the synaptic firings of a man on heroin or crack or coke. The line makes zero sense, and it reminds us just how little Herzog cares about narrative logic. He’d much rather inspire off-topic questions (like the ones above) than adhere to the rules of by-the-numbers storytelling. (more…)

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Bad Lieutenant’s not going to appreciate itself, you know. For best results, read parts I, II, III, IV, and V on this very blog. 

Welcome back, dear readers. We now return to our scene-for-scene look at Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the cult-film curio from Werner Herzog. Our last installment trailed a demure Nicolas Cage as he adopted a nonsensical accent and worked to solve the film’s MacGuffin murder case. Cage’s histrionics and Herzog’s wild tangents took a back seat to the film’s skeleton: its script. Like some overbearing authority figure, William Finkelstein‘s screenplay broke up the party and demanded some tangible action. But what is Bad Lieutenant without Herzog and Cage’s enabling relationship, which hijacks a by-the-numbers script and sends it headlong into lunacy?

We begin this installment with Cage, Xzibit, and a few of the rapper/actor’s henchmen. Xzibit parks his Escalade along the New Orleans waterfront. As his cronies dispose of a dead body, Xzibit lays out a business proposal.

Over a roving, 50-second long take, Xzibit chats about his plans to buy cheap riverfront property and sell it to salivating real estate developers. He asks Cage to be the front man for his operation; never mind that he hardly knows Cage and has no real reason to trust him. The story calls for the men to interact, and so they do, logic be damned. Here we get some textbook lazy character development. Given Xzibit’s late entrance into the film — he doesn’t have a substantial scene until well past the movie’s halfway point — Herzog and Finkelstein cram a lot of plot into a tight time frame. By film’s end, of course, Bad Lieutenant drops the pretense and begins to openly mock such plot contrivances. (more…)

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After a brief detour to recognize the best films of 2011, we now return to our scene-for-scene analysis of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. For optimal results, read parts I, II, III, and IV on this blog.

It appears my labor of love has spilled into 2012. When we last left our anti-hero, things weren’t exactly breaking his way. He had lost the sole witness in a homicide investigation and become the subject of a police investigation himself (he did, after all, cut an elderly woman’s oxygen supply and call her a “selfish cunt”).

The man, Nicolas Cage, also has a gambling problem, which the film reminds us in the first scene of this installment.

The sequence begins, like so many shots in Bad Lieutenant, with an elegant , unflashy long take. Werner Herzog opens the scene with Cage barreling down a hallway at a police office in New Orleans.

Herzog’s camera follows Cage into his office. Cage, armed with his newfound accent, spots a prostitute and complains about the number of them he saw on his way to work. “Clean it up,” he tells one of his minions. (more…)

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We now return to our scene-for-scene look at Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. For best results, read Parts I, II, and III prior to this entry. I know that sounds like a lot of homework. Feel free to skip it and dive in. Spoilers abound.

We’re about an hour into Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a film as unwieldy and sprawling as its title. The movie began like some long-lost pilot for “Law & Order: New Orleans” — an object destined for late-night cable or the bargain bin at your dying video store. It then morphed into a freewheeling highlight reel of Nicolas Cage scene-stealing. It became weirder and meaner, like The Big Lebowski with a jagged edge. Bad Lieutenant is a film that tries on different hats for size, only to ditch them minutes later. Now it’s got a new hat. As we return to Bad Lieutenant, we see a drug addict (Nicolas Cage) drive across Louisiana to find his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes). Due to personal and professional obligations, he drags with him a young boy (Denzel Whitaker) and a dog.

Welcome to Bad Lieutenant: The wacky road movie.

Cage must protect the boy, a homicide witness, from a drug kingpin (Xzibit) looking to shut the kid up. Meanwhile, he hopes to find Mendes so he can drop off the dog, which belongs to his father.

The scene sets up a shopworn premise: Male protag gets saddled with kid. Hilarity and life-lessons ensue. Can you count the number of movies that follow this formula? (the list would include such wildly diverse titles as The Rock‘s The Game Plan and Sofia Coppola‘s Somewhere). (more…)

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This is the third installment of a scene-for-scene look at Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Parts I and II are available here and here. For best results, read Parts I and II first.

We now return to our scene-by-scene analysis of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. When we last left off, director Werner Herzog had just indulged in 30 seconds of shaky, digital video close-ups on a crocodile’s face. Our hero (Nicolas Cage), meanwhile, was busy exploiting a female cop (Fairuza Balk) to score drugs from the police property room.

Part III begins with Cage snorting heroin in Balk’s bedroom. Once more into the abyss.

Herzog starts with the above image of a bedroom mirror reflecting Cage. He then tracks away from the mirror as Balk, clad in seductress black underwear, enters the shot. Cage is too zonked-out to even feign arousal. Here we see him at his lowest; one form of hedonism (drugs) swallows his ability to engage in another (sex). Cage can’t even get a laugh in this scene. He just wants to lie down and let his head swim.

As mentioned in Part II, Cage reserves specific (and subtle) acting tics for the drugs he consumes. We can tell he’s on heroin now because, as he did in a previous scene, he claws limply at his own cheeks. (more…)

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This is the second installment of a scene-for-scene analysis of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Read Part I here

We now return to Werner Herzog‘s asphalt jungle. This installment continues where we left off and ends with another tone-shattering scene involving Nicolas Cage and a gator.

When we last left our hero (Cage), he’d just plunged into some never-before-seen depths in depravity. Cage, eager to score some drugs, coerced a young woman into smoking crack and having sex with him…in front of her boyfriend…in public…as a bribe to drop a drug charge against her. He’d also made out with some coke for himself.

Cage then returns to his car. He takes a bump and, without any clear explanation, shouts, “Fuck!”

Like several moments in Bad Lieutenant, Cage erupts in a vocal outburst that doesn’t make immediate sense to the viewer. Here we have another of the film’s running, downplayed jokes. A normal movie would explain why Cage just screamed in his car. But Bad Lieutenant lets the moment linger without explanation. It doesn’t clarify the flare-up until the next scene. Herzog will play this disorienting trick again soon. (more…)

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Greetings. Welcome to my labor of love. Here lies the first installment in a scene-for-scene look at Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a movie so close to my heart it was once misdiagnosed as a tumor. This post explores the first 20-odd minutes of the film, from the opening credits to a pivotal showdown between Nicolas Cage and a young, drunk couple. It contains nonstop spoilers and a battery of stills to help you follow along at home. I’ve kept the fanboy love to a minimum.

Werner Herzog‘s Bad Lieutenant is a special kind of cult film. It puzzles, eludes easy interpretation, and entertains like all hell. It’s a moving target, incapable of being pinned down as genre trash or high art. It’s both, often in the same scene. It mystifies movie nerds and taste-makers — the people who pride themselves on discerning quality from shlock. I’d call it a cinephile’s cult film. Unlike the broader, undisputed cult classics (i.e. The Big Lebowski), Bad Lieutenant deliberately misleads casual viewers. Only those who “get the joke” can become members of the cult. Cinephile cult films — I’d include Showgirls, Point Break, and Wild Things among the list — practically beg you to dismiss them. Their overt silliness dupes you into thinking there’s nothing below the surface.

And so Bad Lieutenant begins like a late-night B-movie, one you’d catch on USA or TNT.

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